Sunday, December 3, 2023

I'll keep my coat. . .

Advent begins with palms and hosannas, with a people so in awe of the Savior that they strip off their coats to become a path for the donkey carrying Jesus to walk.  They shout until they are hoarse and they rejoice over the day when the Son of David enters His city.  I fear that we do not quite get that.  The reality is that few of us would peel off the coats we paid good money for only to have a donkey walk upon them -- even if that donkey is carrying Jesus.  We all like a celebration but we like to celebrate in our style. 

How do I know this?  Every Sunday is like the first Sunday in Advent.  Jesus comes.  He comes in the humble form of baptismal water, absolution's voice, Scripture's Word, and Holy Communion's bread and wine.  Jesus is not here symbolically nor is He present in our imagination.  He is incarnate in His Word and Sacraments.  It is not simply the idea of Jesus or a picture of Jesus but the real crucified and risen Lord.  But for too many of us (speaking here particularly of Lutherans) we are not quite ready to be inconvenienced by Jesus' coming nor are we prepared to alter our behavior to meet Him who comes.

One of the Advent hymns asks "O Lord, How Shall I Meet Thee" but it is a quaint question.  We will meet Him on the level of our comfort -- that is pretty universal these days.  We worship not at the hours appointed but when it fits us and our schedule.  The morning people come early and those who sleep late come closer to noon.  We worship in the style that fits us.  The formal people go to liturgy with vestments and ceremonies and hymnals.  The informal go to warehouses with big sound systems and grand stages and worship bands to entertain us.  It is all good because Jesus wants you to be happy, to feel good about things, and to be comfortable, right?

The Advent placement of the Palm Sunday account is fitting.  Jesus has not come to make us happy or feel better about things or to be at ease and comfortable.  There is a certain amount of discomfort in the acknowledgement that the One who comes is God in flesh.  At least there ought to be.  Because it is Jesus who comes, the ground on which He comes is holy.  Do you get the sense from your congregation that Sunday morning takes place upon the holy ground of God's presence?  Even if the pastor genuflects at the incarnation in the creed or at the consecration, the rest of us don't and we are probably not sure why he does either.  

Oddly enough, some of the kids get it better than adults.  One young boy who was serving as acolyte whispered to me during the last hymn "Why do you go down on your knee?"  I hurriedly explained that it was because Jesus was in flesh and in the Sacrament and if we really believe that it is Jesus we go down on our knees before Him."  The acolyte thought a moment and then said, "Shouldn't the rest of us also be doing it?"  He got the connection.  If this is what we believe and confess and this is what is happening, how can we worry about our comfort level at that point?

The reality is that most of us do not think this way.  We are filled with things that flow from our self-awareness -- I am hot or thirsty; I ache or hurt; I am tired or bored -- you name it.  But we are not equally much less more fully aware of God's presence in our midst and of what that means.  Pastors are the same as people.  Some pastors say about vestments or ceremonies "That is just not who I am."  In other words, "I have to do what I am comfortable with."  The answer is who should be comfortable or casual about being in the presence of the Most High God?  Our discomfort does not drive us away but it ought to drive us to our knees in pure and unadulterated joy and thanksgiving that God has visited us this day with His grace and mercy.

More often than not, we keep our coats on and leave Jesus to fend for Himself.  We are more concerned about our self-awareness than our awareness of the Son of God in our midst doing for us what He has promised.  It is no wonder that the Palm Sunday account begins Advent and it is no wonder that we do not get why that is.  But God keeps plugging away at it.  Thanks be to God we have a patient God.  I know if I were God, I would have given up on me a long time ago.


No comments: